Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson by J. Randy Taraborrelli Page A

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Authors: J. Randy Taraborrelli
of her record company. ‘Michael! Oh, Michael,’
     she called out as she walked away. ‘Now, where is that boy?’
    Not since Sammy Davis, Jr., had the world seen a child performer with as innate a command of himself on stage as Michael Jackson.
     Both as a singer and dancer, young Michael exuded a presence that was simply uncanny. After this youngster was heard recording
     Smokey Robinson's plaintive, bluesy ‘Who's Loving You?’ the question among Motown's staffers was ‘Where did he learn that
     kind of emotion?’ The answer is that he didn't have to learn it, it just seemed to be there for him.
    Producers were always astonished at how Michael would, in between recording sessions, play games that pre-teen children enjoy
     such as cards and hide-and-seek, and then step behind a microphone and belt out a song with the emotional agility and presence
     of an old soul who's seen his share of heartache. Equally amazing was the fact that, aside from listening to demonstration
     tapes of the songs sung by a session singer to give him direction on the lead melody and Deke Richards' constant prodding
     to clean up his diction, Michael was pretty much left to his own devices in the studio. When he was told to sound like a rejected
     suitor, no one in the studio actually expected him to do it, to understand the emotion involved in heartbreak. How could they?
     After all, he was eleven.
    ‘I'll tell you the honest-to-God truth. I never knew what I was doing in the early days,’ Michael confessed to me once. ‘I
     just did it. I never knew how to sing, really. I didn't control it. It just formed itself. I don't know where it came from…
     it just came. Half the time, I didn't even know what I was singing about, but I still felt the emotion behind it.’
    Producer Deke Richards used to have to sit Michael on top of a trash can in order for him to sing into the boom mike above
     him. Jermaine and Jackie would stand on either side of Michael – Marlon and Tito rarely recorded backing vocals in the early
     days since neither had a knack for harmony – and sheet music would be positioned in front of Michael's face on a music stand.
     From the control booth, all Richards could see in the studio were Jermaine and Jackie standing on either side of two sneakers
     dangling at the sides of a trash can.
    When Michael and his brothers became professional performers, there were probably a million youngsters with as much raw dancing
     talent. What set Michael apart from the schoolyard hoofers was his execution, undoubtedly gleaned from years of observing
     headliners in the rhythm-and-blues revues in which he and his brothers used to appear. The kid had an eye for what worked.
    From legendary soul singer Jackie Wilson, Michael mastered the importance of onstage drama. He learned early on that dropping
     dramatically to one knee, an old Wilson tactic, usually made an audience whoop and holler. However, for the most part, watching
     young Michael at work was like observing an honour student of ‘James Brown 101’. Michael appropriated everything he could
     from the self-proclaimed ‘hardest-working man in show business’. Not only did he employ Brown's splits and the one-foot slides,
     he worked a microphone bold-soul style just like Brown – passionately jerking the stand around like a drunk might handle his
     girlfriend at the corner pool hall on a Saturday night.
    Michael also pilfered James Brown's famous spin. However, back then, the spin didn't go over nearly as well with a crowd as
     Michael's version of another dance of the day that Brown popularized, the Camel Walk. When Michael strode across the floor
     of
American Bandstand
during The Jackson 5's first appearance on that programme, even the audience of pretty white teenagers got caught up in the
     frenzy of excitement.
    From Diana Ross, Michael got not only a sense of style, but an appreciation of power. Diana had a
quiet
authority, the power of presence. He'd observed how

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